Compost tea is the liquid version of ordinary compost. It helps jump-start your garden soil for maximum productivity, improves soil structure, and breaks down nutrients into plant-absorbable form. Generally speaking, compost tea is more beneficial than solid compost.
Why choose compost tea?
Well, if you’re looking for an alternative for a smelly compost bin in your backyard or a faster way to improve garden productivity, here’s one.
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What Is Compost Tea?
Compost tea is the liquid extract from steeping matured compost in water.
The organic matter in the compost dissolves nutrients and beneficial microorganisms into the water. The final product is what we call “compost tea.”
There’re two classifications of compost tea; the difference is in how each is prepared.
- Aerated Compost Tea (ACT)
- Non-Aerated Compost Tea(NCT)
ACT is made using a compost tea brewer fitted with an aerator to supply oxygen. The aerator or air pump encourages aerobic conditions, causing the beneficial bacteria to multiply exponentially.
However, the other beneficial microbes are suppressed, such as mycorrhizal fungi (explained below).
I’ll explain why I call them beneficial microorganisms. But, let’s get the differences first.
NCT, or non-aerated compost tea, is the lower version of ACT. It has no aeration; you only need a bucket of water, your finished compost, and time. However, this kind of tea has a lower population of beneficial bacteria and fungi.
Plus, it may encourage harmful bacteria and fungi to thrive, negatively impacting your garden plants.
What Do I Mean by Beneficial Microorganisms?
This section is kinder technical, Eeeh… but it pays to sound smart on a topic. When speaking of beneficial microorganisms, I’m referring to microbes as:
- Mycorrhizal fungi
- Micro arthropods
These microbes are vital in revamping soil structure by decomposing organic matter and adding nutrients.
The bacteria are responsible for converting nutrients into plant-absorbable forms. For example, they break down ammonium into nitrites, then into nitrate, a form plant roots can absorb.
Ammonium + bacteria ⇾ Nitrite ⇾ Nitrate (plant food)
Mycorrhizal fungi help bring nutrients within reach for plant roots to take in.
However, the type of microorganism population (bacteria or fungi) in your compost depends on your compost material.
Compost rich in oats and soybeans has more fungi, while kitchen waste in compost increases the bacteria population.
Which Is Better, Compost or Compost Tea?
On one side, solid compost is great for solving bulk density issues, especially in heavy clay soil, by adding organic matter.
On the other side, compost tea has instant benefits, while with solid compost, you have to wait longer to get results.
Compost tea wets the soil with nutrients that plants can take in and active microbes that would need time to build up in a compost pile before the results are seen.
Still, on benefits, compost tea also stands out because it helps control pathogens on plant leaves. Professor Linda Chalker-Scott has written a 3-page article proving that non-aerated compost tea can suppress pathogens.
Lastly, compost tea outshines solid compost when you consider the time and energy needed to make either.
You only need 24-36 hours to make compost tea! And how long do you need for solid compost? At least 6-12 weeks.
To summarize, even though both are organic fertilizers, I definitely side with compost tea.
- It’s rich in active microbes
- It helps control pathogens
- It has immediate results
- It takes less time to make 24 to36 hours
How to Make Compost Tea: The Easiest Recipe
What you need
- A compost tea brewer or a 5-gallon bucket
- A brewing bag or a porous fabric cloth (should hold about 6 pounds of compost)
- water (non-chlorinated)
- Mature compost
- A bubbler (air pump)
- A thermostat
However, you don’t need a bubbler if you prefer non-aerated tea.
1. Prepare the organic matter.
For this, you need:
- Garden soil
- Some fresh leaves from healthy plants for nitrogen
- A cup of sugar (food source for bacteria)
- Fish hydrolysate (a cup will do)
Mix the compost with these ingredients and place it into the brewing bag.
2. Fill the compost brewer with water (remember, non-chlorinated) and suspend the compost bag halfway. Fit the air pump pipe and the thermostat. Fix the thermostat to between 68-72 °F.
However, let it settle for 24 hours to release the chlorine if you’re using tap water. It’s harmful to beneficial microorganisms.
3. Steep the compost for about 24 hours, and the tea is ready for serving. For high quality, increase the fermentation period to 36 hours. Also, the used organic material makes a good soil amendment.
Warning: Avoid using manure compost. It may contain e. coli bacteria (salmonella 0157:H7) which, if in large quantity, is pathogenic if it finds its way to your vegetables.
Other Recipes Worth Trying
There are other compost tea recipes, but the above one is the easiest. You can also make compost tea through worm casting. It’s also known as vermicompost.
The liquid fertilizer collects at the base bin as the worms digest the organic materials.
However, this method is only beneficial for small-scale farming.
How to Use Compost Tea
There are two ways to use compost tea. You can use it as soil drenches to boost microorganisms or as foliar sprays.
Soil drench increases the population of the microorganisms in the soil, which helps boost soil fertility.
Foliar spray, on the other hand, helps cure the infected plants from infections by suppressing the pathogens.
It’s also an effective alternative to using pesticides. I recommend using a sprayer for even application.
How often should you use compost tea?
Use it during the first 14-30 days of the growing season to encourage plant leafing. The ratio of diluting the compost tea should be 1:1, compost tea to water.
Ensure to spray the plants easily in the morning before 10:00 am. Ultraviolet rays from the sun have a life-threatening effect on microorganisms.
Can You Drink Compost Tea?
No, no, no! You can’t.
It’s called “tea,” but if you drink it, it might be your last, or you’ll wake up on a hospital bed.
A cup of compost can contain over a billion bacteria. Imagine the tiny creatures in your stomach!
Why make compost tea? It saves you time; you don’t have to wait for months to have fertilizer ready. Plus, it has immediate results on your plants and soil.
In soil, compost tea loads the soil with beneficial microbes, which boosts productivity. For plants, tea is vital in suppressing pathogens for healthy plant growth.